Thursday, August 04, 2011

Oregon Brewers Festival

When KJ and I were discussing our summer trip to Portland, the idea of going the last week in July so I could attend the 2011 Oregon Brewers Festival was floated out there. But, when our plans changed to the first week in August, I immediately wrote off the idea. Then, a couple weeks ago, she got an email from one of her friends saying her husband was planning on going to the festival on Sunday and wanted to invite me to join him.

It hadn't occurred to me we were still going to make it in time for the final day of the brew fest, so—needless to say—I was pretty psyched at this development. This past Sunday was that day.

I went into the event—which is a great deal compared to the brew fests back east—with the intention of sampling as many beers as I could handle. For $20, I purchased an official mug—which is basically the admission price—and 14 tokens. The tokens, obviously, are used toward the purchase of beer samples: one token for a 4-oz. pour, and four for a full mug, about 12 oz.

I used up all 14 tokens on the smaller samples, and as this amounted to about 3 1/2 pints in total—several of them Imperial IPAs—this was about all I could handle. By contrast, the American Craft Beer Fest, sponsored by BeerAdvocate in Boston each year costs $45, and BeerAdvocates's Belgian Beer Fest is now up to $50.

You would think the higher prices would discourage these eastern events from turning into frat-boy drunk fests, but my experience was that the crowd at the Oregon event was much more well-behaved.

Sampling and truly evaluating 14 beers in an afternoon is easier said than done, but I was determined to give it my best shot. My strategy was to start with the lighter, less hoppy beers and work my way up to the Imperial IPAs, of course. Anyone who's tried to taste a Belgian white after something that was brewed with an extreme hophead in mind knows what I'm talking about.

What this strategy essentially means is I drank many of the afternoon's strongest offerings after I had already consumed quite a few. Let's just say at that point conditions were far from ideal, so samples 11 through 14 probably didn't really get a fair shake.

Regardless, there were two brews that really stood out to me. The first was Mt. Emily Wildfire Red Ale, brewed by Mt. Emily Ale House in La Grande, Oregon. The name threw me, so it wasn't on my original list of beers I wanted to try, but after suggesting my beer-challenged companion give it a try, I was drawn to it based on his feedback. It's a hoppy, American-style Imperial red ale brewed with three different types of hops, including Cascades for finishing, giving it the citrusy aroma that I'm partial to. At 7.6% ABV, it's pretty strong, but very well-balanced.

My other favorite was Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema, brewed by Boonville, California's Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Interestingly enough, I had already started down the IPA road when I veered back in the direction of this one. Because of this, it didn't make an instant impression, but as I tasted my final sips, some really great qualities revealed themselves. Summer Solstice is a smooth, creamy, malty-sweet but nicely balanced ale that makes for a perfect complement to a hot summer day.

A complete list of the beers I sampled follows:

Alaskan White Ale - Alaskan Brewing Co. (Juneau, AK)
Ale Industries Orange Kush - Ale Industries (Concord, CA)
Alpha Centauri - Hop Valley Brewing Co. (Springfield, OR)
Anderson Valley Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema - Anderson Valley Brewing Co. (Boonville, CA)
Dopacetic Imperial IPA - Amnesia Brewing Co. (Portland, OR)
Elysian Idiot Sauvin - Elysian Brewing Co. (Seattle, WA)
Hale's Supergoose IPA - Hale's Ales (Seattle, WA)
Hopworks IPA - Hopworks Urban Brewery (Portland, OR)
Klamath Basin Crystal Springs IPA - Klamath Basin Brewing Co. (Klamath Falls, OR)
Lompoc Kick Axe Pale Ale - Lompoc Brewing (Portland, OR)
Longboard Island Lager - Kona Brewing Co. (Kailua Kona, HI)
Mt. Emily Wildfire Red Ale - Mt. Emily Ale House (La Grande, OR)
Terminal Gravity Pale - Terminal Gravity Brewing (Enterprise, OR)
Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA - Alameda Brewhouse (Portland, OR)

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